When the Institute for Responsible Technology was founded in 2003, no other nonprofits or nongovernmental organizations focused on the health dangers of GMOs. Click here to read IRT’s Mission Statement.
There were about four sentences that people would write about: we didn’t want to be used as Guinea pigs, there are no long term studies, it could create allergens, toxins, and anti-nutrients, and that it might create antibiotic-resistant diseases. That was about it.
Other groups focused on things like farmers’ rights, environmental problems, patenting of life and a concentration of power into corporations. We believed that the Achilles heel for the industry was the consumers concerned about their health.
We dove deep into the science, interviewed dozens of scientists, reviewed the data and converted or translated that into language that everyone could understand.
We made this popular throughout the internet, through talks (a thousand lectures in 45 countries), a thousand interviews and free available content for people via newsletters and magazines.
We seeded (with non-GMO seeds, Ha!) the psyche, the consciousness of the country with information hidden by the biotech industry and the regulatory agencies verifying that GMOs are not safe and should never have been introduced. This has driven consumers to seek non-GMO food.
Right now in the United States, 46% of surveyed Americans seek non-GMO food and this was our goal – not necessarily 46% because we don’t need that percentage. All we need is a small percentage sufficient to force the food industry to replace the GMOs with non-GMO alternatives in order to protect their sales.
GMOs were kicked out of Europe because of a high profile GMO food safety scandal that erupted in 1999 with Dr. Arpad Pusztai. His gag order was lifted that January. There are hundreds of articles written about GMO safety in Europe, but not in the United States.
The concerns circulating in the European press convinced the food companies. It started with Unilever on April 27th, 1999 to publicly announce, “No more GMOs,” in their European brands. Similarly the next day, Nestle said the same thing.
The next week, everyone else did the same thing for their European brands, but not for the US where the safety issues and scandal were not covered. It was described as one of the 10 most under-reported events of the year by Project Censored, a US media watchdog group.
It was consumer education that kicked GMOs out of Europe, not a government decision and it was consumer education in the United States. This consumer education on the health effects of GMOs was pioneered by the Institute for Responsible Technology.
Of course, we’re joined by lots of groups talking about this issue. This is why we have focused so much on consumer attitudes and behaviors, because it turns out we can win the situation with GMOs in food without changing government policy.
It’s a little different now with gene editing where we’re facing the possibility of replacing nature with gene-edited organisms and corrupting the gene pool in bacteria, algae, insects, grasses and trees. Basically anything with DNA.
IRT is expanding its focus. We’ve always been involved in educating regulators, politicians, etc. Now we need to alert the world about the potential existential threat from GMOs replacing nature.